I just finished Volume 2 of Lee’s Lieutenants: A Study in Command by Douglas Freeman. Towards the end, I observed a passage on how General Lee managed to handle the ego of one of his great commanders, JEB Stuart. During the battle of Chancellorsville (May 1963), General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson was mistakenly shot by Confederate soldiers and died a week later. General Stuart, the calvary commander, assumed his command and by all accounts handled the mission well.
And Stuart knew it. A man who did like to be praised; he was somewhat taken aback when his named was not mentioned enough (in his mind) in the official dispatches. I love this section on how General Lee handled his ego bruised calvary commander:
In answer to some complaint at lock of mention in dispatches, Lee wrote Stuart:
“In the management of the difficult operations at Chancellorsville, which you so promptly undertook and creditably performed, I saw no error to correct, nor has there been a fiting opportunity to commend your conduct. I prefer your acts to speak for themselves, not does your character or reputation require bolstering by out-of-place expression of opinions.”
That was flattering and reassuring but it also was a tactful caution against vainglory and self-advertising.
Lee's Lieutenant's: A Study in Command, Volume II, page 692
Beautifully put. A great commander must be able to massage the ego of his subordinates, keeping them going even when he must come down on them. A few weeks after this, General Lee had to counsel General Stuart on his habit of going off by himself. In the movie Gettysburg, General Lee (played surprisingly well by Martin Sheen) brings in JEB Stuart (Joseph Fuqua), and explains how he failed in the beginning of the battle:
“General Robert E. Lee : General Stuart... your mission was to free this army from the enemy cavalry and report any movement by the enemy's main body. That mission was not fulfilled. You left here with no word of your movement or movement of the enemy for several days. Meanwhile, we were engaged here and drawn into battle without adequate knowledge of the enemy's strength or position, without knowledge of the ground. So it is only by God's grace that we did not meet disaster here.
Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart : General Lee, there were reasons...
General Robert E. Lee : [Lee holds up his hand to silence Stuart] Perhaps you misunderstood my orders? Perhaps I did not make myself clear. Well, sir... this must be made *very* clear. You, sir, with your cavalry, are the eyes of this army. Without your cavalry, we are made blind. That has already happened once. It must never, *never* happen again.
Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart : [Stuart stares at the floor, then slowly draws his sword in token of his resignation] Sir... since I no longer hold the General's...
General Robert E. Lee : [suddenly furious, Lee pounds the table with his fist] I have *told* you, there is no time for that! There is no time!
[he pauses, takes a deep breath, and calms down again]
General Robert E. Lee : There is another fight comin' tomorrow, and we need you. We need every man, God knows. You must take what I have told you, and learn from it, as a man does.
[he takes Stuart's sword and replaces it in its scabbard]
General Robert E. Lee : There has been a mistake. It will not happen again; I know your quality. You are one of the finest cavalry officers I have ever known, and your service to this army has been invaluable. Now... let us speak no more of this.
[he turns and slowly walks away, then turns back to Stuart]
General Robert E. Lee : The matter is concluded. Good night
Here is the video, better than just the words. But again, a senior commander correcting his subordinate, whom he has not only respect, but affection. A difficult position to be put into, but one any commander must be prepared for. Lee corrected Stuart but left his ego and self-worth intact. Well done sir (Yes, I know it’s from the novel The Killer Angles, but again, well done).